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Netanyahu shares insights into Mideast drama

Jewish Bulletin of Northern California
October 17, 2000

CUPERTINO, Calif. —Scheduled to speak in person at two South Bay engagements this week, Benjamin Netanyahu kept his appointments despite raging battles in his homeland via satellite.

Appearing live on a 10-by-20-foot video screen, the former Israeli prime minister spoke extensively about the current situation in Israel. He even answered audience questions during a somewhat surreal 70-minute program at De Anza Community College in Cupertino on Sunday night.

From a Jerusalem television studio at 4:30 a.m. in Israel, Netanyahu talked about how he, like most people, including Israelis, felt "paralyzed with a broken heart" when he saw the young Palestinian boy die in a televised video clip two weeks ago.

"But I want all of you to know that those children are not there by accident," he told the sold-out Celebrity Forum speakers series audience of about 2,400. "This is the work of a cynical dictatorship, Palestinian leaders that are deliberately sending them to the front line so that their pain or death will be televised.

"They want as many casualties as possible to appear on the screen so they can place international pressure on Israel."

Netanyahu, who also appeared via satellite Monday night at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, argued that even Prime Minister Ehud Barak, the head of "the most accommodating government in Israel's history," has been unable to reverse the atmosphere of hatred and violence against Israel that permeates Palestinian society.

It could have been an "I told you so" moment for the hardliner Netanyahu, who was trounced by Barak, 56 to 44 percent, in the May 1999 elections. But he played it cool.

"I was branded as the obstacle to peace if you remove me from office and put somebody else in there, you will have peace," he said. "Well, that's what happened. Did we get peace?"

The man who consistently opposed concessions to the Palestinians during his term as prime minister from 1996 to 1999, didn't offer a direct answer.

"Prime Minister Barak has made unimaginable concessions to the Palestinians, concessions that even shocked the Americans at Camp David. And yet they were made. What did [Yasser] Arafat do in response to these enormous offers? He chucked them. He rejected them. And the question is why?"

The answer, said Netanyahu, is that although Arafat and Palestinian leaders tell the world one thing, they tell something entirely different to their own people.

"To their own people, they're saying, 'We'll simply whittle Israel away piece by piece, take the territories and use it as a base for further violence against Israel; get more territory and we'll eventually reach the sea. We'll reach Haifa, Tel Aviv, Jaffa and Akko. We'll asphyxiate Israelis and choke the Jews and drive them into the sea.'

"This is what Arafat is saying day in and day out to his own people. How can you make peace with such a people?"

Wearing a dark blue jacket and red tie, Netanyahu sat in front of a backdrop painted glowing yellow, the camera capturing him from the chest up. It seemed as if he was on a segment of "Nightline," but his huge image never left the screen. In fact, the audience was able to see emotion and expressions they would have never seen had Netanyahu simply been standing at a podium.

Adding to the surreal nature: Also via satellite, Netanyahu could see and hear the audience.

Up until Oct. 13, Netanyahu was still planning to appear in person, according to Dick Henning, the promoter of Celebrity Forum. The annual lecture series features a wide range of noteworthy people and costs $200 or $300 per ticket for the season.

But because of the deteriorating situation in Israel, Netanyahu's plans changed.

"For him to leave the country at this time, to be on the speakers circuit, would not look good," Henning surmised.

Henning wouldn't say exactly how much Netanyahu's honorarium was, only that it was "not a small amount" and that it was less than $50,000 for each night.

In his talk, Netanyahu sidestepped the issue of a possible return to politics in the wake of his Sept. 27 exoneration, when Israel's attorney general cleared him of corruption charges.

At one point, he referred to himself in the third person as "prime minister." The audience laughed as he explained that, like a U.S. president, he always retains the title and that he is unsure of his political future.

"I haven't made up my mind what to do," he said. "The question here is not my personal future. It's the future of Israel."

During a 40-minute question-and-answer session, Netanyahu was asked his opinion of Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount, which set off the recent round of battles between Israelis and Palestinians. The man who turns 51 tomorrow would in no way criticize his fellow Likud member.

"The idea that Jews could not visit their holy site is not acceptable. They have that right. And Mr. Sharon did just that.

"I don't think that's the provocation," he continued. "I think Arafat used it as an excuse, without a doubt. The real provocation has been demonstrated to those who are willing to look beyond the nightly news, to actually go to the territories, go to the homes and to the schools and see what these [Palestinian] children are taught.

"What he is reading at home is a textbook with a map of the Middle East with Israel wiped off the map. The child is taught that killing Jews and killing the Jewish state is the noblest thing. And when you educate and inculcate people in that culture of hate, what you get is those awful scenes of those Israeli soldiers killed by an angry mob," he said.

"The real provocation is the very existence of the state of Israel."

© JTA Inc., 2000. May not be reproduced without written permission


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